By Gerald Cowan
We tend to be a bit myopic – short sighted – about personal responsibility. We often have telescopic and microscopic vision about the errors, omissions, and debts of others, but we have narrow blurred vision about how we can and should meet the needs of others, what we owe others.
We can usually acknowledge what we owe to Christ. We often sing, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.” Of course it is a reference to our personal salvation. It’s a good song and it’s a valid concept. Not a one of us Christians could have saved ourselves by personal righteousness, good works, or anything else (Titus 3:3-5). There is not a person in the world who is righteous and never sins in anything (Rom. 3:10, 23). Our sins deserved death – a debt we could not pay and survive (Rom. 6:23). It required the death of Christ to save any one soul and all souls. We can certainly say, as Paul did, “He loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Would you feel a debt of gratitude for one who saved your life? Then why wouldn’t you feel a debt to one who saved your eternal soul? We do indeed owe Christ, and it too is a debt that will never be paid off. It is to be a living sacrifice, as long as we live (Rom. 12:1-2).
It may not be so easy to acknowledge what we owe others. Paul felt that he owed it to Christ to carry on his work by preaching the gospel as Christ directed, “making disciples in all nations” (Mt. 28:18-20). So he said, “I am a debtor to all men... ready to preach the gospel” everywhere, to Jews and Gentiles, even in the capital city of the godless world, Rome (Rom. 1:14-17). As Christians you and I should be ready – prepared and willing – to say to all non-Christians what Christ would say to them, to let Christ speak through us to them: “Be reconciled to God” through the One God appointed to be Lord and Christ, and Savior (Acts 2:36, Rom. 10:9-12). That debt too is a lifelong obligation.
There is another aspect to our debt that must be addressed, and this is the one I want to give most attention: what we owe each other as Christians. This debt too is lifelong. It consists of four parts.
(1) We owe love to each other. (Rom. 13:10, Gal. 5:22). We are the body of Christ, “many members but only one body” (1 Cor. 12:20). Members of Christ are identified by the fact that they “have love (like his love) for one another.” John 13:34-35
(2) We owe it to each other to meet each other’s needs. (Eph. 4:11-16). It is impractical if not impossible for Christians to be separatists and isolationists (Rom. 14:7-8). We need to “reach out and touch somebody” (as a Telephone Company used to say – they practiced it too: they reached and put the touch on us regularly). We also need to be touched, to be reachable and touchable. If we keep people at a distance, never close enough to touch, we make it impossible either to help them or be helped by them.
(3) We owe service to each other. This grows out of and is vitally related to the first two points.
It grows out of love (Gal. 5:13). This means more than just doing what is needed at any given time. It means doing for others what you would like to have done for yourself, regardless of need or personal circumstances. This fulfills the royal law about loving others as you love yourself (Gal. 5:14). This grows out of our appreciation of each other as being in Christ together. That leads us to the fourth matter...
(4) We owe harmonious and united fellowship to each other. The Lord does not want his body the church to be divided or fragmented, but rather to “think the same thing, and be of the same mind and judgment” with him and his people in everything (1 Cor. 1:10-13). In everything we should be “one another” persons in the Lord. We cannot really be attractive to the outsiders unless we show ourselves to be showing true fellowship with each other in Christ.
- Gerald Cowan, a longtime preacher and missionary, is retired from full-time pulpit preaching. Gerald publishes an e-mail newsletter entitled GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICAL WRITINGS. He is available for Gospel Meetings and he may be contacted at Geraldcowan1931@aol.com